In the darkest places of our unbelief, the hope of glory remains because He cannot disown Himself.
An examination of Colossians 1
Shaul’s (Paul) authorship of the letter to the Colossians is disputed by some. However, the evidence in favour of his authorship far outweighs that of the counter argument. Shaul (Paul) most likely wrote this letter from Rome, during his imprisonment there in approx. 60 C.E. (Acts 28:16-31).
During Shaul’s three year ministry in Ephesus, Epaphras had accepted the gospel of Messiah and had carried word of it back to Colossae (Col. 1:1-8; Acts 19:10). The small ecclesia (community of believers) in Colossae became the target of heretical teaching, which led to Epaphras’s visiting Shaul in Rome and in turn was ultimately the reason for the writing of this letter.
Contrary to the assertions of some popular Christian scholarship, the ecclesia of Colossae were not entirely Gentile but included Jewish members. Due to the diaspora of the Jewish people, Jews continued to live in communities throughout the world and as was the custom of those who shared the gospel, they went first to the Jew and also to the Gentile. This is evidenced in the text from the outset, where Shaul greets two separate groups of people within the Colossian community (Col. 1:2).
Of the many heretical ideas that Shaul refutes in this letter, chapter 1 focuses specifically on the devaluing of the work and person of Messiah Yeshua. While this was certainly being perpetuated by some Jewish adherents of the time, it was not the soul domain of the Jews: many pagan religious beliefs also sought to undermine the person and work of Messiah using Ascetic and Gnostic ideas. I find it ironic that the same Christian scholars who advocate an entirely Gentile congregation, also blame Jews for the heresies spoken against in chapters 2 & 3 of this letter, regarding strict food law, festival observance and circumcision. If there were no Jews, How were there—so called—Jewish heresies present?
1:1 Paul (Shaul=asked, questioned), a shiliach (sent one, messenger) of Yeshua ha-Mashiyach by the will of G-d, and Timothy (Honouring G-d) our brother,
2 To the set apart ones and faithful (Jewish) brothers and sisters in Messiah who are at Colossae: Chesed (Grace, mercy) to you and shalom (peace) from G-d our Father.
In verse 1 the singular form adelphos, which is used by Shaul to denote any brother in Messiah. In this case, Timothy is a Jew. The second use of the familial language found in verse 2 is plural, and refers specifically to fellow Jewish believers in Messiah Yeshua. It is clear therefore that Paul is addressing a composite congregation made up of both Gentile and Jewish followers of Messiah Yeshua. Sadly, many English versions of the Bible, following theological bias rather than the guidelines of translation, have misrepresented these verses. One such example is the extremely misleading NIV translation:
“To G-d’s holy people in Colossae, the faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” Col. 1:2 (NIV)
The Greek determiner/conjunction kai, can be translated as: and, also, even, so, then, too. It is sadly ironic then, that the translators of the NIV have chosen a determiner which doesn’t represent the original Greek at all, “the”. By doing this they have erased all evidence of the distinction that the author is making.
Note the strong Jewish overtones of Shaul’s greeting:
“Chesed (Grace, mercy) to you and shalom (peace) from G-d our Father.” (Verse 2).
3 We give thanks to G-d, the Father of our Lord Yeshua ha-Mashiyachaynu, praying always for you, 4 since we heard of your faith in Yeshua ha-Mashiyach and the love which you have for all the set apart ones; 5 because of ha-tikvah (the hope) laid up for you in the heavens, of which you previously heard in ha-dvar emet (the Word of truth), the gospel 6 which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the chesed (grace, mercy) of G-d in emet (truth);
It’s here that Shaul lays the foundation for his remez (hint) concerning the correlation between the creation narrative and the person of Messiah and His work. Note the reference to the gospel as being the seed that has entered the world (that is time and space) and is bearing fruit and multiplying. This is an allusion to the instruction of Genesis:
“Be fruitful, and multiply,” Bereshit/Genesis 1:22; 1:28; 8:17; 9:1; 9:7; 17:20 etc.
These words are spoken to every part of creation and at the inception of the Patriarchs of Israel.
It’s important to note that these things have not been happening through the hearing of the gospel alone but through the unity of hearing, understanding and halakhah (the way we walk).
We should also note that Ha-d’var Emet, is an idiom referring to the Torah and that the present hope of Israel remains, as evidenced by the current state of Israel’s national anthem Ha-Tikvah (The Hope). Mashiyach is Ha-Tikvah.
Emunah—Faith (Trust), Tikvah—Hope and Ahava/chesed—Love, also feature in Paul’s famous passage to the Corinthians (Cor. 13:13)
7 just as you learned it from Epaphras (love), our beloved fellow bond-servant, who is a faithful servant of Messiah on our behalf, 8 and he also informed us of your love in the Spirit.
Epaphras, whose name means, “Love,” is mentioned again in Col. 4:12 and is also mentioned in the letter to Philemon v.23. He was clearly a much loved and trusted fellow worker, an evangelist and a true follower of Messiah. Given his name, which is derived from Aphrodite, he is most likely a Greek convert to the Messianic faith.
9 For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so that your halakhah (the way you walk) will be in a manner worthy of ha-Adon (the Lord), to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of G-d;
Shaul is careful to show that our fruitfulness is not of our own making but is a form of returning to G-d in thought and action. Our halakhah results in an increasing, not of our own knowledge but of the knowledge of G-d. Our mental assent to the concepts of faith must not be separate from our actions as participants in the new creation, born of Messiah.
11 strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; Simchah (joyously) 12 giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the set apart ones, in Light.
13 For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The juxtaposition of light and dark and the domain of darkness against the light of Messiah, are an allusion to the Gnostic concepts of the spiritual verses the material. It is a shrewd foundation for a powerful rebuke.
Note the plural nature of our redemption. This is consistent to Israel’s understanding of the corporate redemption of the people. This doesn’t mean that all will be saved but it does mean that those of us who are saved are called upon to see our individual salvation as part of a unity of saved people who form the set apart ones of HaShem.
15 He is the visible image of the invisible G-d, the firstborn (and is over) all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. 17 He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.
The Gnostics will be shaken by this proclamation because for them all material matter is evil. Shaul is stating an immutable truth, that G-d is creator of all, both spiritual and material and that through His material Son Yeshua He has brought reconciliation to all things. That’s why Shaul writes, “16 For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible,”
The phrasing, “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Brings to mind the words of John 1.
The author of Hebrews explains how Messiah holds the universe together:
“And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” –Hebrews 1:3
We might ask, “How Yeshua, Who is a physical humanoid being, seated at the right hand of G-d in the third heaven, continues to hold the Universe together?” The quoted passage from Hebrews explains how: it says that it is by the Word (d’var) of His power. In other words, it is by the emanation of His word force (memra, kol, ketvi) that the Universe is held together for the purpose of redemption through Him. Note that the Word is the outworking of his power. This is how all creation (not just human beings) has heard the gospel. It is the purpose of G-d to reconcile all that would willingly accept His gift. Of course this doesn’t mean that all will be reconciled, this is made clear by the wider body of Scripture.
This portion of the text also reminds us of the creation of the first Adam (Genesis 1:26-27; through whom sin entered the world), affirming for us the text of Romans 5:12-21 and 1 Corinthians 15:44-49.
18 He is also the rosh (head, beginning) of the body, the Ecclesia; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. 19 For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all completion to dwell in Him, 20 and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in the heavens.
When a Jew reads, “Head,” he understands it to refer to the beginning of something as well as to the location of the mental aspect of the greater consciousness of the human being. Therefore there continues to be a correlation to the creation account in what Shaul is saying. Here, the new creation which includes the Ecclesia of G-d, is both begun and lead by Yeshua, it’s Rosh (Head).
Firstborn from the dead is clearly not a reference to Yeshua being the first human being to be raised from the dead, after all, Elijah raised the dead, Yeshua himself raised Lazarus. Those raised formerly were raised temporarily in order that they might die again and be raised imperishable for the Olam Haba (World to come). Yeshua is the firstborn from the dead as an imperishable Meta physical entity and as the door for all those who would receive His gift of eternal life. He was raised both physical and spiritual, unbound by time and space. In this, as in all other aspects of His being, He is supreme over all in subjugation to the Father G-d.
It is unusual for Shaul to say, “His cross,” when referring to Messiah’s sacrificial death. Shaul most often says, “The cross,” however in this first chapter of Colossians he goes on to speak of his own afflictions as a result of the cross of Messiah (v.24-25): therefore he makes a firm distinction between the saving work of, “His (Messiah’s) cross,” and the lesser struggles of those who, take up their cross (afflictions, death) daily for the sake of the gospel and the Ecclesia.
It’s important to note that it was the Father’s good pleasure to give this position to the Son. Also, Shaul states that all things both earthly (physical) and heavenly (spiritual/Meta physical) are able to be reconciled. This is an affront to Gnosticism.
21 And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, 22 yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach--23 if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and steadfast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul (Shaul), was made a minister.
He has reconciled us through a physical sacrifice. His death has made it possible for us to stand blameless before G-d. The words, “if indeed you continue,” are not a threat but an instruction. We are reminded to keep our eyes on Ha-Tikvah (the hope) we have in Messiah for eternal k’vod (glory). This hope is not reliant on our ability to believe, it’s reliant on G-d’s faithfulness.
The hope of this gospel was (past tense) proclaimed in all creation. (See Romans 1:20).
24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, filling up that which is behind, the afflictions of Messiah in my flesh on behalf of His body, which is the Ecclesia, in. 25 Of this (suffering) I was made a minister according to the stewardship from G-d bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of ha-d’var (the Word) of G-d,
Shaul’s sufferings/afflictions are a result of his commitment to spreading the gospel, his willingness to take up his (own) cross daily in the shadow of Messiah’s saving work on The Cross. It’s this affliction that allows him to strengthen the body, which is the Ecclesia (community of believers).
26 that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but has now been manifested to His holy people, (Israel),
The mystery, unlike the hidden mysteries of the Gnostics which were only available to the select few higher initiates, was once hidden but is now revealed to everyone; so that all might have an opportunity to be reconciled to G-d.
At the beginning of this letter Shaul used the Greek hagios (Holy ones, set apart ones, saints) to refer to Gentile believers. Here however he makes a point of saying, “His hagios,” rather than, “hagios,” or, “the hagios”: this is because he is referring to G-d’s chosen people Israel (ethnic, empirical). This is supported by the fact that he goes on to say that the revelation of this mystery, formerly hidden from Israel, is now being brought forth from the Jews and is being presented as a light to the nations according to Biblical prophecy. If this were not so, there would be no need to make a distinction between, “His Holy people,” and, “the nations”.
27 through whom G-d has made known the riches of the k’vod/Shekinah glory of this mystery among the nations (Gentiles), which is Messiah in you, ha-tikvah shel k’vod, and the hope of glory.
There is no preposition in the Greek text prior to hos (whom). In English it’s unnatural to say, “Whom G-d has made known the riches,” therefore many English versions say, “To whom”. However Shaul goes on to say that it is through the recipients of this mystery, that the Gentiles receive the knowledge of G-d’s k’vod (glory), which is Messiah in us. Therefore it’s more natural to say, “Through whom,” because the chronology denotes the meaning, “Salvation comes from (through) the Jews”. The mystery of Messiah in us has been revealed first to the Jew and now, as a fulfilling of Israel’s call to be light to the nations, the knowledge of G-d’s glory is also made known to the Gentiles.
It’s not our belief that seals within us the hope of glory, it is Messiah in us that enables us to trust in the hope of glory, offered by G-d the Father through Messiah’s saving work. In the darkest places of our unbelief, the hope of glory remains because He cannot disown Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).
28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every human being and teaching every human being with all wisdom, so that we may present every human being complete in Messiah. 29 For this purpose also I labour, striving as a result of His power, which mightily works within me.
This is the opportunity for every human being to receive the gift of G-d, the sacrificial death of Messiah Yeshua and the hope of glory, that is, eternal life in Him. This is not a statement of Universal salvation. It is a statement of will.
Note that Shaul’s striving is not born of his own efforts, rather it is a result of the power of Messiah in him.
We can be assured that Messiah in us is the seal of our glorious hope, the Olam Haba, an eternity in the presence of the Father.
© 2014 Yaakov Brown
Spiritual leader of Beth Melekh Community, Auckland, Aotearoa, N.Z.